Jul 312018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs july 2018

The Aztext ft. Xenia Dunford – Everyday Sun


Last month I wrote about Xenia Dunford’s dual comeback EPs. They split along genre lines: the first singer-songwriter Americana, the second a little jazzier. Now she’s dabbling in a third genre: hip-hop. On rap duo The Aztext’s new single “Everyday Sun,” Dunford proves herself a perfect hook singer. The blend producer Rico James creates with her voice and an infectious horn line sounds like a ’70s Stevie Wonder jam. Continue reading »

Jul 202018
 

ballroom sofa

“Maybe I don’t want to be famous,” goes the opening line of Ballroom Sofa’s song “Famous.” That’s an understatement!

I first stumbled upon Ballroom Sofa’s Bandcamp page in March. The four songs posted there immediately hooked me. They blended Britpop and dream-pop, earworm hooks with clever lyrics. This didn’t sound like some DIY bedroom demo either; the production was immaculate. This band had it all – everything except an identity. Continue reading »

Jul 162018
 

Julia Caesar

For the past year, the most talked-about new band in Vermont has been Julia Caesar. They built their reputation solely on fiery local shows, without a single song out there for the wider world to hear. (When I finally dug up a live video to post in May, I couldn’t even uncover the song titles.) In January, the music editor of alt-weekly Seven Days named his top hope for 2018 as getting any proper recording from the band.

Well, would that all of our new-year’s goals were wrapped up by mid-July! Julia Caesar drops their long-awaited debut EP today. Hopefully it will begin transmitting the deafening noise surrounding them in Vermont to a national audience. Continue reading »

Jul 022018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs june

The Big Sip – Two Hips / One Night


When an album features the credit “Tenor Sax (Track 5),” you know I’m starting with Track 5. And the sax doesn’t disappoint when it finally arrives on this arty-jam-funk journey, but there is so much going on beforehand you forget it’s coming. Crazy keyboard sound effects, off-kilter Phish rhythms, and some insistent melodies that push through the chaos. It’s off the band’s debut EP Sip Responsibly. Continue reading »

Jun 182018
 

the smittens cats for cats

“You can’t write a good song about cats,” Max Andrucki says. “It’s not possible.”

This might be a surprise to hear after you first listen to his indiepop band the Smittens’ new single “Cats for Cats.” Because it is a good song. But it’s not really about cats.

Andrucki actually built the song around a similar-sounding phrase: “Masc for Masc,” a controversial dating term in the gay/queer community (Medium has an explainer). “That phrase is everywhere in the gay dating app world and in fact it’s almost cliche to talk about it critically,” Andrucki says. “I agonized over the lyrics in a way I rarely do, because I didn’t want to make it seem as if the song was about critiquing gay body image or gender presentation culture or anything like that. It’s not anything with a ‘social message’ as explicit as that. But the phrase stuck, so I felt like I had to rhyme it with other silly things to make it clear that I wasn’t really serious about it as a social critique.” Continue reading »

Jun 042018
 

xenia dunford

The pictures say it all. Xenia Dunford’s press photos for her last album featured all manner of her posing with a jaunty fedora, leaning on brick walls, sitting on train tracks. Five years later, she’s done joking around. In her new press photo, she stares straight into the lens, unsmiling in black and white.

It’s a more serious, mature look befitting a more serious, mature sound. A lot has changed in the five years since one of Vermont’s most promising young songwriters disappeared just as her career was getting going. The ensuing period, she writes, was “marked by depression, self loathing and the destruction of people and ideas I held very dear yet were completely out of my control.” Continue reading »

Jun 012018
 

the rear defrosters gentleman farmer

The Rear Defrosters’ “Gentleman Farmer” sounds like an old-time country hoedown, the sort of thing that Hank Williams might have written, or that Levon Helm might have goofed around with in the Woodstock barn. It’s not, but the similarity is no accident. The Rear Defrosters is a country covers band that plays Jimmie Rodgers and Dwight Yoakam tunes for beer-drinkers. It features an array of acclaimed southern Vermont players and associates honkytonking it up, including a ringer on guitar: the great songwriter and finger-picker Sam Moss, who I’ve written about before.

But leader Michael Roberts is primarily a songwriter, and a good one – I’ve written both about his band Wooden Dinosaur and his solo work before – so he challenged himself to write a few original songs they could slip into live sets so seamlessly the crowds wouldn’t notice. “It seemed like a good challenge to try and write songs that could fit alongside the canon of classic country music covers we usually play,” Roberts says. Continue reading »

May 312018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best new songs may

Addy Sechler – Make Home to Me


One of the best albums of 2017 was Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me. It was also one of the toughest to actually listen to, being a songwriter frankly grappling with his wife’s sudden death. When you want that same quiet, hushed vibe, but don’t have the emotional bandwidth to sink into that weighty subject matter, Addy Sechler’s new album will suit just fine. Continue reading »

May 242018
 

emma back little world

Many prominent artists are recording “political” albums these days. But almost inevitably, the lyrics tend to paint a blurry picture. Musicians have over-learned the lessons of 1960s protest singers, who wrote songs so timely that they became dated within days. Is anyone’s favorite Dylan song really “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”? Today’s overcorrection leads to broad generalities about “the fight” and “resistance,” without speaking to the times in any direct way.

Emma Back’s fantastic new album Little World is a political album too, but Back has something specific to say. No, she’s not chronicling the Iran deal’s dissolution. There’s no “Talkin’ Bob Mueller Blues,” and the word “Trump” does not come up once. Little World succeeds where others have failed because, rather than attempting a sweeping statement about “our times,” Back drills into one specific subject: war in the Middle East. Continue reading »

May 142018
 

bison arkansas

The Vermont trio Bison’s first release Get Out was my favorite EP of last year. Now they’re back with their second. That’s the good news. The bad: It’s also their last. Two of the three band members are moving away, and Bison will soon be no more. Judging from the first single “Arkansas,” at least they’re going out on top. Continue reading »